Pope Benedict XVI says the key for priests facing an ever increasing number of responsibilities is defining their priorities and making sure that prayer is at the top of the list.
The Pope affirmed this Aug. 6 when he met with priests, deacons and seminarians of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone and answered in German six questions they asked him. The Holy Father was on vacation in the Dolomites, where he stayed at the major seminary of Bressanone.
Father Franz Pixner asked a question about “the increasing burden of pastoral care” and the problems that sometimes come with it, such as “the intense pressure of work, the lack of recognition, difficulties concerning the magisterium, loneliness, the dwindling number of priests, but also of communities of the faithful.” He said that in such a context, questions arise about things such as the celibacy of priests and the involvement of women in pastoral care.
In his answer, Pope Benedict said
I know well how difficult it is today — when a priest finds himself directing not only one easily managed parish but several parishes and pastoral units; when he must be available to give this or that counsel, and so forth ! — how difficult it is to live such a life. I believe that in this situation it is important to have the courage to limit oneself and to be clear about deciding on priorities.
I would therefore like to emphasize: Whatever the demands that arise, it is a real priority to find every day, I would say, an hour to be in silence for the Lord and with the Lord, as the Church suggests we do with the breviary, with daily prayers, so as to continually enrich ourselves inwardly, to return — as I said in answering the first question — to within the reach of the Holy Spirit’s breath.
And to order priorities on this basis: I must learn to see what is truly essential, where my presence as a priest is indispensable and where I cannot delegate anyone else. And at the same time, I must humbly accept when there are many things I should do and where my presence is requested that I cannot manage because I know my limits. I think people understand this humility.
Father Franz Pixner(dean at Karlsruth)
Holy Father, I am Franz Pixner and I am the pastor of two large parishes. I myself, together with many of my confreres and lay persons, are concerned about the increasing burden of pastoral care caused by, for example, the pastoral units that are being created: the intense p! ressure of work, the lack of recognition, difficulties concerning the magisterium, loneliness, the dwindling number of priests, but also of communities of the faithful. Many people wonder what God is asking of us in this situation and how the Holy Spirit wishes to encourage us.
In this context arise questions concerning, for example, the celibacy of priests, the ordination of “viri probati” to the priesthood, the involvement of charisms, particularly those of women, in pastoral care, making men and women collaborators trained in theology responsible for conferring baptism and preaching homilies.
The question is also asked how we priests, confronted by the new challenges, can help one another in a brotherly community, at the various levels of the diocese, diaconate and pastoral and parish unit.
We ask you, Holy Father, to give us some good advice for all these questions. Thank you.
Pope Benedict XVI
Dear dean, you have opened a whole ! series of questions that occupy and concern pastors and all of us in this age, and you certainly know that I cannot answer all of them here. I imagine that you will have repeated opportunities to consider them with your bishop, and we in turn we will speak of them at the Synod of Bishops. All of us, I believe stand in need of this dialogue with one another, of the dialogue of faith and responsibility, in order to find the straight narrow path in this era, full of difficult perspectives on faith and challenges for priests. No one has an instant recipe, we are all searching together.
With this reservation, I find myself together with all of you in the midst of this process of toil and interior struggle, I shall try to say a few words, precisely as part of a broader dialogue.
In my answer I would like to examine two fundamental aspects: on the one hand, the irreplaceableness of the priest, the meaning and the manner of the priestly ministry today; and on the other — and this is more obvious than it used to be — the multiplicity of charisms and the fact that all together they are Church, they build the Church and for this reason we must strive to reawaken charisms. We must foster this lively whole, which in turn then also supports the priest. He supports others, others support him and only in this complex and variegated whole can the Church develop today and toward the future.
On the one hand, there will always be a need for the priest who is totally dedicated to the Lord and therefore totally dedicated to humanity. In the Old Testament there is the call to “sanctification” which more or less corresponds to what we mean today by “consecration,” or even “priestly ordination”: Something is delivered over to God and is therefore removed from the common sphere, it is given to him. Yet this means that it is now available for all.
Since it has been taken and given to God, for this very reason it! is now not isolated by being raised from the “for,” to the “for all.” I think that this can also be said of the Church’s priesthood. It means on the one hand that we are consigned to the Lord, separated from ordinary life, but on the other, we are consigned to him because in this way we can belong to him totally and totally belong to others.
I believe we must continuously seek to show this to young people — to those who are idealists, who want to do something for the whole — show them that precisely this “extraction from the common” means “consignment to the whole” and that this is an important way, the most important way, to serve our brethren.
Part of this, moreover, is truly making oneself available to the Lord in the fullness of one’s being and consequently, finding oneself totally available to men and women. I think celibacy is a fundamental expression of this totality and already, for this reason, an important re! ference in this world because it only has meaning if we truly believe in eternal life and if we believe that God involves us and that we can be for him.
Therefore, the priesthood is indispensable because in the Eucharist itself, originating in God, the Church is built; in the sacrament of penance purification is conferred; in the sacrament, the priesthood is, precisely, an involvement in the “for” of Jesus Christ.
However, I know well how difficult it is today — when a priest finds himself directing not only one easily managed parish but several parishes and pastoral units; when he must be available to give this or that advice, and so forth — how difficult it is to live such a life. I believe that in this situation it is important to have the courage to limit oneself and to be clear about deciding on priorities.
A fundamental priority of priestly life is to be with the Lord and thus to have time for prayer. St. Charles Borromeo always use! d to say: “You will not be able to care for the souls of others if you let your own perish. In the end you will no longer do anything even for others. You must always have time for being with God.”
I would therefore like to emphasize: Whatever the demands that arise, it is a real priority to find every day, I would say, an hour to be in silence for the Lord and with the Lord, as the Church suggests we do with the breviary, with daily prayers, so as to continually enrich ourselves inwardly, to return — as I said in answering the first question — to within the reach of the Holy Spirit’s breath. And to order priorities on this basis: I must learn to see what is truly essential, where my presence as a priest is indispensable and where I cannot delegate anyone else. And at the same time, I must humbly accept when there are many things I should do and where my presence is requested that I cannot manage because I know my limits. I think people understand this humi! lity.
And I now must link the other aspect to this: knowing how to delegate, to get people to collaborate. I have the impression that people understand and also appreciate it when a priest is with God, when he is concerned with his office of being the person who prays for others: “We,” they say, “cannot pray so much, you must do it for us: Basically, it is your job, as it were, to be the one who prays for us.”
They want a priest who honestly endeavors to live with the Lord and then is available to men and women — the suffering, the dying, the sick, children, young people (I would say that they are the priorities) — but also who can distinguish between things that others do better than him, thereby making room for those gifts.
I am thinking of movements and of many other forms of collaboration in the parish. May all these things also be reflected upon in the diocese itself, new forms of collaboration should be created and intercha! nges encouraged.
You rightly said that in this it is important to look beyond the parish to the diocesan community, indeed, to the community of the universal Church, which in her turn must direct her gaze to see what is happening in the parish and what the consequences are for the individual priest.
You then touched on another point, very important in my eyes: Priests, even if they live far apart, are a true community of brothers who should support and help one another. In order not to drift into isolation, into loneliness with its sorrows, it is important for us to meet one another regularly.
It will be the task of the diocese to establish how best to organize meetings for priests — today we have cars which make traveling easier — so that we can experience being together ever anew, learn from one another, mutually correct and help one another, cheer one another and comfort one another, so that in this communion of the presbyterate, together wit! h the bishop we can carry out our service to the local Church. Precisely, no priest is a priest on his own; we are a presbyterate, and it is only in this communion with the bishop that each one can carry out his service.
Now, this beautiful communion recognized by all at the theological level, must also be expressed in practice in the ways identified by the local Church, and it must be extended because no bishop is a bishop on his own, but only a bishop in the College, in the great communion of bishops. This is the communion we should always strive for.
And I think that it is a particularly beautiful aspect of Catholicism: through the primacy, which is not an absolute monarchy but a service of communion, that we may have the certainty of this unity. Thus in a large community with many voices, all together we make the great music of faith ring out in this world.
Let us pray the Lord to comfort us when we think we cannot manage any longer: Let us sup! port one another and then the Lord will help us to find the right paths together.
[Translation by L’Osservatore Romano]BRESSANONE, Italy, AUG. 21, 2008 (Zenit.org).